The Fear That Motivates and Paralyzes

Fear is a natural emotion that people will go to great lengths to avoid when it becomes overwhelming. Excessive levels of fear can paralyze and cause people to steer clear from pursuing lofty goals and the things in which they are passionate. Think of that time in middle school in which you could not speak to nor approach that person you had a crush on.  The intense fear felt in the pit of your stomach led to silence, avoidance, or a bumbling mess of nonsense coming out of your mouth. On the opposite end of the fear spectrum is the lesser version of fear that motivates us work hard and make conscientious decisions. For example, there is a healthy fear some adolescents have when facing their parents after getting trouble. This fear, hopefully, influences the teen to steer clear of vandalism, breaking a curfew, or engaging in risky behavior. At both ends of the fear spectrum lies passion and one’s comfort with failure.

There are two types of passion: obsessive and harmonious. Obsessive passion tends to overwhelm and maximize one’s attention and identity. This is the person who is constantly focused on, talking about, and/or engaged in their passion of choice. This is the person who only talks of one aspect of life such as sports, video games, work, or parenting. These individuals tend to lack a healthy balance between their personal, social, and professional/athletic/academic life. One of the common negative side effects this person might encounter could be a great deal of anger, depression, anxiety, fear… when they experience failure associated with their passion. Obsessive athletes experience this when they play poorly, get cut from a team, or do not crack the starting line-up. They become overwhelmingly upset, angry, anxious, or sad because there is nothing else in life to distract them and give them a break from obsessively thinking about the failure. ESPN recently did a story on Jozy Altidore, starting forward for the US National Men’s Team. He is currently starting for the Dutch team AZ Alkmarr where he scored 23 goals last season. After failing to live up to high expectations in the past, Altidore attributes his current success to finding a healthy balance between soccer and his personal life, which describes the other type of passion.

Harmonious passion is describes as strong desire to freely engage in your passion. These individuals love what they do and work extremely hard to reach lofty goals. They also feel the negative effects of failure; however their identity is not wrapped so tightly around their passion and they can still enjoy other areas of life when they fail. Steven Gerrard, starting center midfielder for Liverpool explains how he is able to leave soccer on the field. This ability to compartmentalize sports from other areas of life contribute to a healthy mental perspective. Players and professionals who can “leave it on the field and in the office” allow themselves to take that valuable mental break and relax/rejuvenate so they are at their best when they must perform in the future. 


Steven Gerrard talks about having some separation from soccer.


Much of the information provided in this blog post was motivated by the article “Driven By Fear: The Effect of Success and Failure Information on Passionate Individuals’ Performance” by Belanger Lafreniere, Vallerand, and Kruglanski. (2013.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s